Translate Your Mountain Bike Skills to Cyclocross

By Sarah Kaufmann

Sarah Kaufmann putting her mountain bike skills to the test in the 2017 Utah Cyclocross Series. Photo by Dave Iltis

Happy fall, it’s cyclocross (CX) season! This is always a refreshing change of pace if you have been riding or racing your mountain bike all summer. The races are short, it is a different challenge to ride on a tire with half the rubber width and no suspension and you will be hopping off your bike, running and jumping. It will help to practice the most CX-specific skills like dismounts, remounts and getting over the barriers. But in honing your CX skills, remember that much of your technique on the MTB will translate to the CX bike with few adjustments.

With narrower tires and no suspension, there is less room for error. You will need to be more precise through technical terrain and corners. Keep as much of the tire tread in contact with the ground as possible. Just like on your MTB, when you corner, you will lean the bike while keeping your body upright. This keeps your weight centered over the bottom bracket and spread evenly over the tire tread. You can practice this in a grassy field or somewhere else with low consequences by leaning the bike from side to side under you as you stay in a vertical plane. Get comfortable separating your bike from your body.

CX races are filled with sharp accelerations and your training will need to reflect that. Each acceleration has a physiological cost. As you approach corners, transitions, barriers, run-ups, etc., anywhere where you will need to quickly get back up to speed, anticipate the gearing it will take. Try to avoid being overgeared and mashing a heavy, slow gear that will waste your muscles. That said you want enough torque to make each pedal stroke count so not too light a gear either. Practice in training so you can anticipate and spin quickly back up to speed.

Because CX courses are filled with corners and transitions, being able to carry speed is very important. As above, every acceleration is a match burned for later in the race. Just like with mountain biking, timing your braking is key for carrying as much speed as possible through the corners. You need to be off the brakes once you are IN the corner so you need to do all your braking BEFORE the corner. Braking in a corner throws the rider off balance as the tires fight for traction against competing braking and cornering forces. (There are some instances like corners on steep descents where you will feather the brake in the corner). To practice being off the brakes in corners, try approaching a corner, slowing down a lot (more than you think, nearly to a stop), then let off the brakes and let your bike coast and gain speed as you lean around the corner with your eyes up, pulling you around. Approach the corner again and this time carry slightly more speed. Keep this progression until you grab the brakes in the corner. Now you know your speed to enter that particular corner and it will help you gauge for others. Remember: start slow! You will pick up speed as you look up around the corner. Enter the corner slow for faster exit speed and exit speed is what matters!

Whether you are coming off of a solid base of summer riding or developing your aerobic base, the intervals and speed work for CX fitness are challenging and fun. A solid CX rider has proficient skills and fitness. You can expect unique on/off or over/under style intervals and plenty of sprint work while maintaining or building aerobic fitness. CX gets fun when the weather turns south so don’t worry about getting a late start.

Sarah Kaufmann is the owner of K Cycling Coaching based in Salt Lake City, UT. She is a professional XC and CX racer and can be reached at [email protected] or 413.522.3180. Contact her today to make the most of your CX season.

Sarah Kaufmann putting her mountain bike cornering skills to the test in the 2017 Utah Cyclocross Series. Photo by Dave Iltis
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